How Does COVID-19 Impact Child Custody Visitation?

When you share child custody with your ex-spouse or ex-partner, and your children regularly spend time at both homes, news of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, likely resulted in you worrying about whether it would be safe for your child to continue with the current parenting time arrangement. Some parents may worry that the other parent is not taking necessary precautions during the pandemic, and that the child could be exposed to the virus. At the same time, parents may be concerned about whether the child will be exposed through another source and will need to self-isolate or quarantine with the other parent for 14 days.

In short, there is no clear set of rules in place for handling parenting time disputes or concerns amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Accordingly, parents should speak with an experienced Massachusetts family law attorney to learn more about their rights as well as their obligations during this unprecedented time. In the meantime, however, we can provide you with some basic information about how COVID-19 may impact parenting time or visitation.

Following Your Court Order and Keeping Your Child Safe

If a parent does not comply with a court order in Massachusetts, including a child custody order, that parent ultimately may be held in contempt of court. However, are there situations in which a parent may risk violating a court order in order to protect the well-being of a child? During the global pandemic, parents may rightfully be concerned about their children’s health if they spend time with the other parent according to the child custody order. That said, you must follow your court-ordered custody arrangement.  Concerned about the health of your family? What should you do? Call your Massachusetts family law attorney right away, and work out a plan to keep you and your family safe.

How could a child’s health be in question if the parents comply fully with the child custody order? There are a few ways. First, the other parent might know that she or he was exposed to coronavirus after a work meeting or shift with other employees who have since tested positive for COVID-19. Similarly, your child’s other parent may have been in close contact with a friend or family member who tested positive. You may be worried about upholding the custody schedule if the other parent still wants to spend time with the child while she or he is under a 14-day quarantine. In this kind of situation, you may believe the risks to your child’s health are more important than the risks associated with a failure to comply with the court order. Similarly, if the other parent has already tested positive for COVID-19, you may feel even more certain that it is worth risking being held in contempt of court. Always check with your lawyer before violating any court order.

It is Unlikely That You Will be Able to Seek Court Permission or a Modification

If you are simply concerned that the child’s other parent is not taking proper social distancing precautions but you have no reason to believe the parent has been exposed, violating the custody order could prove complicated.

Moreover, you should not anticipate that you will be able to ask the court to modify the custody order, even temporarily. According to Probate and Family Court Standing Order 2-20, Massachusetts family law matters will only be heard in emergency situations (usually cases of domestic violence or abuse). Otherwise, the request for a modification will be docketed and will be heard on or after May 1, 2020.

Contact a Child Custody Lawyer in Massachusetts

If you have questions or concerns about your rights or obligations as a parent during the coronavirus pandemic, it is important to speak with a Massachusetts family law attorney. Although the legal area concerning shared parenting and visitation obligations during a global pandemic are murky, it is important to make decisions that will keep you safe while also preventing a serious violation of a child custody arrangement. Contact the Law Office of Rachel M. Matos to learn more about how our firm can assist you.